The Impurity of Gentiles in Second Temple Sources
Alon (1977) maintains that the idea of a Gentile ritual impurity, either intrinsic or derived from idols and idolatry, is well attested in texts of the Second Temple period. This view is simply not correct. There is a fundamental continuity between biblical texts and Second Temple Jewish writings in the details and dynamics of the various purity systems and the place of Gentiles within them. The primary mode of impurity associated with Gentiles in texts of this period is not ritual impurity but moral impurity. However, there are important developments in these texts, including the further evolution of the concept of genealogical purity/impurity. In this chapter, I review relevant materials from a wide range of sources, with particular attention to the development of and divergence from biblical precedent.
I begin by weighing the evidence for a principle of Gentile ritual impurity in Second Temple Jewish sources cited by Alon (1977) and others. The case for a principle of Gentile ritual impurity is based on sources that describe (1) Jewish amixia, (2) Gentile desecration of sancta, and (3) the impurity of idols and idolatry. I demonstrate that none of the evidence adduced by Alon and others attests to the existence of a principle of Gentile ritual impurity in this period.
A brief consideration of the moral impurity of Gentiles follows the discussion of ritual impurity and reveals strong continuity between biblical and Second Temple sources. When we turn to genealogical purity, we see that the tension noted in chapter 2's examination of the biblical material between more and less exclusionary approaches continues in the Second Temple period. This tension comes to the fore in two primary contexts of boundary crossing: Gentile access to the sanctuary, and Gentile access to Israelite identity through intermarriage and/or conversion.
Already in biblical sources, a certain parallelism between the sanctuary and the community is established. Insofar as holiness is characteristic of the sanctuary and the community of Israel, both are off-limits to profane foreigners. It is no surprise that the Restoration leadership, attributing holiness to the entire community of Israel, sought simultaneously to purge Israel of foreign spouses and to expel foreigners from the temple precincts. Nehemiah 13:1–9 indicates that both actions derive from a single scriptural verse: